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Daniel Ellsberg strengthened public opposition to the Vietnam War in 1971 when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
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Born in Chicago in 1931, military strategist Daniel Ellsberg helped strengthen public opposition to the Vietnam War in 1971 by leaking secret documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. The documents contained evidence that the U.S. government had misled the public regarding U.S. involvement in the war.
"Their example put the question in my head: What could I do to help shorten this war, now that I'm prepared to go to prison for it?"
"The Pentagon Papers definitely contributed to a delegitimation of the war, an impatience with its continuation, and a sense that it was wrong."
Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Highland Park, Michigan. His father, Harry Ellsberg, worked as a civil engineer and his mother, Adele, worked as a fundraiser at the National Jewish Hospital but quit working upon her marriage. Both of Ellsberg's parents were Jewish by heritage but fervent converts to Christian Science. Neighbors and classmates remember young Daniel Ellsberg as an introverted and unusual child.
"Danny was just never one of the guys," one classmate recalled. "He wasn't like the rest of the boys." Another neighbor recalled: "I don't think we walked to school with him ever. He never fraternized with any of the young people in the neighborhood." However, Ellsberg was also an extraordinarily gifted child, excelling especially at math and piano. He read constantly and possessed phenomenal recall, once appearing on a Detroit radio station to recite the entire Gettysburg Address from memory.
Ellsberg received a full academic scholarship to attend the prestigious Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, just outside Detroit, Michigan, ultimately graduating first in his class in 1948 and thus earning another full academic scholarship to study at Harvard. There he majored in economics and wrote a senior honors thesis entitled "Theories of Decision-making Under Uncertainty: The Contributions of von Neumann and Morgenstern," which he later developed into journal articles published in the Economic Journal and American Economics Review.
Upon graduating from Harvard summa cum laude in 1952, Ellsberg received a Woodrow Wilson Scholarship to study economics for a year at King's College, Cambridge University. He returned to the United States in 1953 and immediately volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps Officer Candidates Program (he had earlier been granted educational deferments of military service). Ellsberg served in the Marine Corps for three years, from 1954-'57, working as rifle platoon leader, operations officer and rifle company commander. He extended his service for six months to serve in the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean during the 1956 Suez Crisis in Egypt.
After completing his military service, Ellsberg returned to Harvard on a three-year Junior Fellowship with the Society of Fellows to pursue independent graduate study in economics. In 1959, he landed a position as strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, a highly influential nonprofit that closely advised the U.S. government on military strategy. After first working as a consultant to the Commander-in-Chief Pacific, in 1961 he was assigned to draft the Secretary of Defense Guidance to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on operational plans in the event of a nuclear war.
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